Storytelling is as old as the human race, but a few years ago it suddenly became a buzzword in marketing circles, alongside the explosion of content marketing. Consumer marketers were quick to jump on the bandwagon, and blogs like Content Marketing Institute, Hubspot, and MarketingProfs built large followings by advising marketers on how to create value, publish it through content, and build social buzz to promote brands and products
But content marketers often lack the basic skill that all journalists are trained in: telling a story. The narrative. The progression from start to finish by someone we care about. Most people need a narrative of some kind to make content come alive for them.
A tool I’ve found useful for turning dull content into engaging narrative is the Narrative Arc, which outlines the basic elements of a good story.
The narrative arc
Exposition: explains the landscape, gives context and background for the events about to happen
Complication/conflict: builds suspense with an issue or problem to be solved
Climax: describes the breakthrough – the ‘aha’ moment – when the path to a solution becomes clear
Resolution: the issue gets resolved
This simple formula provides the bare bones of most good stories – human interest news stories, movies, TV episodes, books, advertising, and yes, even good content marketing. With marketing, there’s less time to spell out a full plot, so the narrative may need to be inferred. Good advertising does this well.
Some good examples
The ad: Apple’s iconic 1984 Super Bowl ad
The aha: You don’t need to be a corporate lemming. You can express yourself creatively – with a Mac
The ad: Google’s ad for search: We’re All Storytellers
The aha: Whatever my passion, I can learn all that I need – from Google search
The ad: Guinness friendship advertisement
The aha: True friendship is a warm feeling that comes from loyalty – and drinking beer together
You probably recognize the typical marketing narrative: Customer, the main character, faces a problem because something is missing from his or her life. Product provides the solution and thus solves the problem. But where is the climax? Where is the exciting breakthrough that makes a reader see the light? That ‘aha’ moment is where the audience moves from identifying to empathizing with the main character. It’s where the emotional connection happens. And that’s what gets an audience hooked.
In tech marketing, it can be especially challenging to provide that climax. After all, technology is so amazing, it provides its own exciting breakthrough, right? Or, it takes such effort just to describe what the solution does and how it solves the customer’s problem, there’s no room left to create a climax.
Here’s what I’ve seen many times in tech marketing:
NO CLIMAX = NO “AHA”
OR WORSE, NO STORY
No wonder it falls flat on audience ears. There’s no room for the audience to empathize with the challenge, to experience the climax, to internalize the impact of the breakthrough. A product, no matter how amazing, won’t do that. Neither will a listing of the product’s features and benefits.
Here are some examples of tech companies that tell an interesting story in their content marketing:
GE’s Ecomagination campaign: through advertising, a website, and a magazine with an experienced managing editor, GE communicates the ‘aha’ that it is bringing innovative ideas to improve the health of our planet. No product mentions needed.
Google’s Zero Moment of Truth campaign: Google has leveraged its research about how people buy online, at the ‘zero moment of truth’, by launching a widespread content marketing campaign that tells the story of today’s buyers and what that means for today’s marketers. Demonstrated research value.
Adobe’s digital marketing insights: Adobe launched CMO.com which delivers, in its words, “marketing insights, expertise, and inspiration for and by marketing leaders – all aimed at helping CMOs and senior marketers lead their brands in this new digital age.” Story told, and keeps on telling.
Microsoft’s Channel 9: Developers speak to developers about what is new and cool on this edgy tech news channel.
Other examples of effective content marketing campaigns – what story do they tell? You be the judge: